Battlestar Galactica #110: Daybreak

"Earth is a dream. One we've been chasing a long time. We've earned it."
SO SAY WE ALL: And now the finale.

REVIEW: Originally aired as three parts, the last two nevertheless combined on the same finale night, I've committed to reviewing the DVD's extended cuts and so we end the series proper with a two-and-a-half-hour conclusion. I have reams and reams of notes, obviously, but let me first signal my admiration for Battlestar Galactica as a whole, and how the writers managed to work it out without a Babylon 5-style master plan, simply taking a step back, looking at what they'd done, then writing from there, reinterpreting all those prophecies without actually contradicting them. Daybreak is of a piece, laced with flashbacks to Caprica before the fall, to see what the characters lost and how they changed, and to inform the present. The music and action are epic, and from what was Part 2, every character moment seems like a goodbye. I wept frequently. Thank you Ronald Moore (and team), I'll even forgive you that silly cameo at the end, this remains one of the greatest achievements in television.

As the episode begins, it seems Adama wasn't really planning one last mission after all, but he sure is looking for one. He meets Hot Dog repatriating pictures from the Memorial Hallway (which I believe is the first real scene between Olmos and real-life son, it's nice they found a way to give them that before the end) and notes the pictures that have not been removed, people forgotten, families of people who have since died. One of those pictures is Hera's, and as if Adama hears Helo's plea from the previous episode again, he determines not to leave the child behind. From there, he asks Anders if he knows where the Colony is and a recon mission will confirm it. Starbuck and Adama put a big red line in the middle of the deck, and a volunteering ceremony takes place where people are allowed to cross that line or not. Cottle crosses, Adama sends the fleet's only real doctor back. Roslin shakily walks out of sickbay and joins the Admiral. Starbuck holds her up, and my heart breaks. Everyone we know pretty much crosses, except Baltar. It's a great moment, but there are fewer people on that side of the line than on the other. Can it still be done?

Hoshi is left in charge of the fleet, an Admiral before his time. Lampkin is amusingly minted president as Lee joins his father. One could almost imagine a fifth season where these guys are in charge. Cottle and Roslin have a very touching moment where she doesn't let him break his gruff facade, for his sake, and by now, tears man, tears. If Adama got the first big speech, Kara gets the second, asking HIM to cross the line he won't cross by plugging Anders into C.I.C. so he can interface with the Colony's hybrid and interfere with the Cylons' ability to defend the base. A great moment, he quickly buckles, tensions are running high, but these people are a family and it's the last leg. This is how desperate and epic it's gotten: The Colony is in orbit around a black hole surrounded by a dirty accretion disk. You can only jump right at the door, leaving yourself exposed to its weapons battery. Literally accept that you're a sitting duck until Anders can do his thing. The plan has many moving parts. Vipers will engage raiders. Racetrack and Skulls, released from prison for this mission, will be in charge of nuking the Colony in the escape. Assault teams will enter from the top via Raiders, others will wait for Galactica to ram the Colony (as Hera predicted with her toys) and rappel down from its hulk. Other volunteers will remain aboard and guard it from Centurion invasion (including Caprica and Baltar who, at the last minute, decides to commit to a selfless act). At the same time, Boomer betrays Cavil and steals away with Hera before she's cut open by a Simon. We all knew she would, but she also knows it's her last "choice", and pretty much allows Sharon to execute her afterwards.

The big climactic battle is only part of the triple-climax absolutely necessary to give the show a satisfying ending. It needed to be exciting and see the bad guys defeated. It does that, but when Cavil manages to get to C.I.C. and take Hera hostage, there follows a philosophical debate between him and Baltar about the nature of whatever has been guiding their destiny, and where free will fits in. Call it God or what you will, Baltar calls it a force of nature, amoral (which certainly fits the pattern of behavior by the so-called Angels Baltar sees), good and evil a human invention. Breaking the cycle, that's OUR choice. Of course, Cavil doesn't trust in God any more than he does his Creators, but the standoff is broken by Tigh who offers to trade resurrection technology for Hera and an end to war. And we might have been handed that happy ending if not for the fact Ellen wasn't lying when she said it required all the Final Five's knowledge, and connecting to Anders in his nutrient bath is the best way to send the information over to the Colony. And that's going to make all their memories mingle. Tori is immediately afraid Tyrol will learn of her murder of Cally and tries to cover her ass, but as the memory comes bubbling up, Tyrol breaks the link and kills her in his rage. A firefight erupts as Cavil thinks he's being cheated, and when all is lost, he commits suicide. Then as Kara is told to jump the ship blind (she doesn't have the rendezvous coordinates), a rock hits Racetrack and Skulls' raptor, disabled earlier by a broken windshield, and accidentally completes their mission, destroying the Colony and all aboard. And still, this is just still that first part of the triple-climax.

The second thing the shows has to do is fulfill its various prophecies. First, the oft-repeated Opera House dream finally comes true, cut into the action when Hera, returned to the ship, runs off to find home in the middle of a war zone. Sharon is after her. Roslin gets a flash and is also off her bed and looking. The little girl will run into Baltar and Six, who have just meaningfully reconnected (she can finally be proud of him, which was all she was missing, and in the middle of their kiss, both Head Six and Head Baltar appear and address them both). They shepherd Hera to C.I.C. -  a rescue, not a kidnapping - and there on the platform are the Final Five, just like they are on the balcony in the vision. This is all especially clever because music is about to become the key to getting Galactica to safety, and so C.I.C. as an Opera House is metaphorical delight. Because the other prophecy is about Starbuck being the Harbinger of Death who will take them to their end. Well, as intimated in the previous episode's Extended Cut in a restored scene, she is really the Messenger of Death, not its Bringer, and the end, is humanity's final home. Hera's notes, the "song", "All Along the Watchtower", which has the key phrase "There must be a way out of here", becomes the only thing Kara can rely on as she punches in coordinates. The notes as numbers, as Bear McCreary's music becomes this massive, driving beat, integrating Watchtower... It's my favorite moment in the whole series. And there's another, long-neglected prophecy, but let me hold off on that one for now.

The third part of the climax, of course, is finding Earth. And what a sight. Galactica coasts over the Moon and there she is, Africa, the cradle of humanity, dead in the middle. We probably guessed we'd get there, but when? Are the Colonials our descendants? Contemporaries? The choice to them our precursors is perfectly in line with the whole Chariots of the Gods thing the original show was going for, and the miracle engineered by God is that this planet has evolved its own branch of humanity, independently. And so the people of the fleet and the Cylons who accompanied them will give humanity the gift of language, or religion, of the things we recognize in them as being ours today. And they will become our ancestors (though most Cylons are unlikely to ever have children, though it's certainly possible). Hera will become the genetic Eve of the modern human race (or at least, the earliest remains of Homo Sapiens found), her destiny fulfilled. The Centurions are given the base ship and their freedom as a reward, and never returned (maybe they fell upon the bad Cylons who most certainly are still out there, we didn't see any base ships at the Colony). The fleet, including a mangled, wobbly Galactica are flown into the sun by Anders - cue tearful goodbye between him and Kara, though his last words are definitely more of a see you later), the old Colonial theme (the original show's theme) sounds out for the last time. Humanity is given a clean slate, Lee's idea is to leave all the technology behind, no city, but just people building communities all over the planet, giving themselves the best chance to survive. They are the Elders of legend whose offspring made the pyramids possible, who sparked myths and performed miracles ancient peoples couldn't explain but in magical terms.

And then we're into epilogues, giving us a chance to check in with everybody one last time the same way we visited each room in Galactica before the mission jump, the same way we flew a fly-by of the ship with Adama. We're saying goodbye. There are two particularly notable endings. The first is Kara's. She disappears while Lee is telling her about his wish to explore this new world, mid-sentence. Her mission done, she returns to the afterlife, presumably to be with Anders. I know this rubbed some people the wrong way, first-run. Not me. The show has been very clear about angelic visitations and the proverbial Hand of God engineering events. Kara's apparent resurrection is just that. She is a revenant who, like the Beings of Light of the original series, exists in a different way. I know this is a science fiction series, but it's one that has divine beings and prophecy. It's a perfectly fine moment, and much better than, what, what did y'all want? A Cavil-made clone? No. Yuck. Speaking of prophecy, let's address the one about the dying leader who would lead humanity to a new home, but would not live to see it. I never realized they really did make it happen. Roslin does see Earth, and if you haven't cried yet, I double dare you not to in those finale moments with her and Adama. They are filled with wonder at how much wildlife there is on Earth, Africa having more than all Twelve Colonies combined, and Adama embraces his son (Lee's first and last memories of his father will be the same) and leaves with Laura to build their cabin... HER cabin. She succumbs on the way over, he transfers his wedding ring to her finger, and I lost it completely. In the end, he will build that cabin and live there a hermit the rest of his days, near her grave. THAT'S the home she never saw.

And all throughout, we're treated to flashbacks that take us to Caprica before the fall. I admire some of the transitions back and forth -  the fountain and the IV drip, Anders's nutrient bath and the bath he's in when recovering from a sports injury - and they show us just how the characters got where they are. Those "choices" allowed by free will that changed everything. Adama is about to retire and get a cushy defense contracting job or other, but leaves the lie-detector interview insulted and returns to his bucket of bolts, taking Tigh with him to Ellen's jealous consternation. Laura loses her entire family in a car crash (including a pregnant sister, tragic), wallows, goes on a blind date with a former student of hers, and through these events finally decides to take her life in her own hands and joins Adar's campaign. Lee and Starbuck meet for the first time at a dinner with Zak, and Lee is immediately smitten. Her too. Their drunken conversation exposes their fears, ambitions, true selves, as they are resolved in the series. Baltar meets Six and their courtship eventually leads to his betrayal of the human race, but we also meet his father, a deteriorating old farmer she is kind to, putting a poignant spin on his final decision to become a farmer. All his grand and never satisfied ambitions are useless in this new world, and he may be at peace for the first time. Anders remembers telling journalists he didn't care about points and games, but about the perfect throw, the perfection in physics and mathematics, which connects to his role in their shared destiny. Boomer's is less convincing, tacking on a reason for owing Adama a favor, when really, she's done so much wrong, she owed him just for that. At least it's a moment he wouldn't really remember, him and Tigh ribbing a rookie for screwing up. She saw it as a turning point (at least for Sleeper Boomer), but yeah, not really necessary or that impactful. A lot of these moments are texture - Lee's pigeon, much of Laura's midlife crisis, remembering Lover Boomer and Cally, Helo's original feelings for Boomer, the odd introduction of a teenage neighbor and friend for Baltar (huh?) - but BSG has always had texture in its bones.

Finally, flash-forward 150,000 years to today. The Angels Baltar and Six are among us, watching, debating... will the cycle repeat, or will the truth of chaos physics cause it to finally derail. In 2009, Six was optimistic. I wouldn't want to ask her now. Still, we end on a quizzical, ironic note. As Hendrix sings "All Along the Watchtower" (that part of the cycle has repeated), news reports of advances in robotics. Will we create our own Cylon race?

CAPRICANADA: In addition to the places we've seen before (Starbuck's apartment, Baltar's house, the Opera House...), we have many new locations in Daybreak. Baltar's Father's House is a private residence in North Vancouver. The fountain in which Roslin bathes is on the Simon Fraser University campus. The strip bar is really called Butter and is in Maple Ridge, BC. Roslin's apartment is in the same as Kara's, i.e. the Waterfall Building. Lee's apartment is in Vancouver's Ironworks building, a multi-purpose facility which offers studio space for filming, photography, etc. Anders' rehab room is just the exercise room at Vancouver Film Studios. Private land in Kamloops plays the role of virgin Africa, though obviously, elements of Africa have been composited in. And New York, 150,000 years later, (well, the newsstand) is played by the plaza along the north end of Hornby near Hastings Street in Vancouver. In the limo scene, Baltar and Six pass by a Vancouver street sign. The policewoman who visits Roslin has a deep Canadian accent (she has to say she's sowry).

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: Daybreak starts on a colorful image of the galaxy, a call-back to the original series' opening sequence showing up a similar image. The honeycombed walls of the Colony evoke the cave system where the Cylons are hiding on the casino planet in Saga of a Star World. In the original series, Galactica got to Earth in later part of the 20th Century, more or less contemporary with the show's broadcast. The new version instead makes the fleet arrive in the days of early Man. If the cycle continues, a new BSG made in 25 years or so will have Galactica actually take place in the future where our Earth is Kobol.

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: Headcount starts at 39,516, five down from the previous episode. Presumably, more people died of their wounds incurred in the hull breach. It's impossible to know how many people died in action against the Colony and thus how many settled on Earth in the end. Among the dead, we can count Racetrack, Skulls and Marine Nowart, all former mutineers. Several Vipers (4) and raptors (7) are lost in all, which accounts for 18 people, but many may have been killed on Galactica itself. Laura Roslin passes away on Earth. Final headcount is at least 39,000. Cylons of note who are killed include Boomer, Anders, Tori and Cavil Prime.

VERSIONS: The Extended Cut combines three episodes' worth of material (ending part one after the recon mission, and combining the other two on the same night) and adds about 11 minutes of bonus material including Roslin asking to be taken off pain killers, the first scene with Baltar's neighbor Calvin, Boomer trying to feed Hera, Boomer first making a move on Tyrol and later admitting her feelings for the Chief to Helo, Ellen joining the strippers for a dance and getting angry when Tigh mentions his loyalty to Adama, the key scene where Kara shames Adama into connecting Anders to C.I.C., Ellen and Tori discussing the latter's selfishness, and Tyrol remembering Cally. Nevertheless, some scenes cut out of Parts 2-3 didn't make it back in, including flashbacks where Cavil implants Tori and Boomer into human society. Groggy they wake up on planes, Boomer is immediately informed of the death of her family; the flight crew ribbing Boomer and Helo by throwing pillows at their raptor; Lee and Kara doing the dishes, she's sure he'll never leave the service; Kara preparing the meal before Lee gets there, and asking Zak questions about him

REWATCHABILITY: High - The grand finale is an epic beauty, filled with moments both small and colossal, that I think satisfies in every measurable way. Naysayers, I don't know what the hell you thought you were watching. Obviously, there's more to come in these reviews, as I plan to write about The Plan, Caprica, and Blood and Chrome, but this is the true climax of the saga, and I'm gonna be a wreck all week.

3 comments:

Ryan Blake said...

Fantastic series of reviews - a tour de force. I even don't hate the ending so much now!

Siskoid said...

Thanks Ryan. And of course, it's not over.

googum said...

Your reviews are always great, and this will be a valuable resource if I ever revisit the series. Which I wasn't planning on, since I kind of hated the ending?

It makes a little more sense to me now: after everything they've been through together, when they finally reach earth, are the colonists going to rebuild society? (Or, more hopefully, build a society, their last one wasn't great.) Nah, let's just all fuck off in different directions and die; see you never! I didn't like that at the time, but in 2020...I get it; I still don't like it.

 

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